We Tried KFC’s New & Improved Chicken Sandwich to See if It’s as Good as Popeyes’
So who's it gonna be? Popeyes or KFC??
When Popeyes first debuted its now-famous chicken sandwich back in early 2019, few could have predicted the fried poultry arms race that quickly ensued. To this day, other fast food chains—from Church’s Chicken to McDonald’s—have been attempting to topple the reigning champ with upgraded chicken sandwiches of their own, but with little success. That is, until KFC threw its hat in the ring.
KFC recently announced that it’s finally rolling out an all-new and improved fried chicken sandwich at its restaurant locations nationwide over the next few weeks, following a successful test launch in the Orlando area last spring. The sandwich features all the staple ingredients: a double-breaded and extra-crispy chicken breast filet, thick-cut pickles, and your choice of mayo or spicy sauce—all on a toasted, buttery brioche bun. The ensemble is nearly identical to that of the Popeyes sandwich, so we couldn’t help but put the rookie sandwich up against the GOAT.
We ordered both spicy and classic chicken sandwiches from Popeyes and KFC to answer some serious questions in the name of journalism. How do the two sandwiches differ? Which chain uses the best pickles? How do the sauces stack up? We broke it all down.
Where can you get KFC’s new sandwich?
As of this writing, KFC’s new chicken sandwich isn’t as easy to get as Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, which after a month’s long shortage, has been available at the Louisiana-style chain’s locations nationwide without interruption since November 2019. KFC's sandwich is making its debut on city-by-city basis—beginning with Chicago, Kansas City, Louisville, Portland, St. Louis, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tulsa. You can expect a full, nationwide rollout by the end of February. Until then, Popeyes has a clear edge on this front.
The Overall Sandwich
Yes, KFC's sandwich formula sounds a lot like Popeyes, with its crispy chicken breast (like Popeyes) stacked on a buttery brioche bun (like Popeyes) with thick pickle slices (like Popeyes), and your choice between classic mayo or spicy sauce (yep, you guessed it, like Popeyes). But just because the sandwiches sound similar, doesn't mean KFC's is a copycat. We can all agree that this combination of ingredients is pretty standard for a fast food fried chicken sandwich. We’ve got to break down each element.
With both sandwiches positioned next to each other bun-to-bun, it was immediately evident that Popeyes’ sandwich was a tad taller. The Popeyes sandwich I received had a slightly thicker piece of chicken and a thicker brioche bun, though it’s worth noting that both of those things can naturally vary in size from order to order. Despite the size of Popeyes’ bun, I found KFC’s to be much lighter (in a good way, like a potato bun), fluffier, and softer. This bun allowed KFC’s chicken to shine.
Off the bat, Popeyes’ chicken appeared to have a more golden-brown breading and a crunchier texture. Bites from both sandwiches confirmed my suspicion. While KFC’s chicken was certainly crispy on the outside and delightfully tender on the inside, I didn’t detect quite the same crunch as with the Popeyes sandwich. Popeyes' chicken still pulled ahead.
As far as flavor goes, the chicken on the sandwiches featured the respective chains' unique, signature seasonings that are instantly familiar. Both are tasty in different ways. KFC's secret 11 herbs and spices give the juicy chicken a big pop of flavor, while Popeyes' Louisiana-style seasonings provide a nice kick.
A great fried chicken sandwich is nothing without its great pickles. So, it should come as no surprise that KFC dedicated serious time and effort to getting its pickle selection right. A spokesperson for the chain told Thrillist that its culinary development team tested eight different pickles before it landed on a winner. My expectations were understandably high going into my first bite.
I was not disappointed. The crinkle cut pickles were not only thicker than Popeyes, but had a notable crunch that was missing from its competitor’s briny cucumbers. Popeyes’ pickles are exceptional—Thrillist awarded them MVP (Most Valuable Pickle) at its annual fast food awards in 2020)—so I can’t emphasize enough how big of a deal it is that KFC’s are better.
KFC’s spicy sauce had a brighter orange color than Popeyes’, which led to me to hope that it would translate into a hotter sandwich overall (Popeyes’ spicy chicken sandwich offering doesn’t bring much heat in my opinion). That it did. KFC’s sauce was creamy, rich, cajun-flavored, and decidedly spicy.
The two regular, non-spicy sauces are pretty straightforward. Both KFC's and Popeyes' respective mayos add smooth finishes to every bite you take, but you're missing out if you don't order the spicy version.
Is KFC’s chicken sandwich better than Popeyes’?
Short answer: no.
Popeyes’ sandwich is still on top. Though, as of now, KFC is the only other fast food chain to come remotely—remarkably—close to knocking Popeyes from the top of the fast food chicken sandwich pecking order, thanks to its superior sauce and perfect pickles. For that, I commend the Colonel. KFC’s chicken breast—with its inferior breading and relative lack of crunch—is what holds this sandwich back.